Education Nation: The Rise of Community Colleges

By: Liam Martin Email
By: Liam Martin Email

LANSING -- We begin Day 2 of Education Nation on the campus of Lansing Community College.

It's a school that has seen tons of growth over the past decade -- now at almost full capacity in many of its programs.

"We do not have lecture halls with hundreds of people," says LCC President Brent Knight.

That is part of the allure that has drawn more and more students to community college. That, and, of course, the price. A year's tuition at LCC? About $3,000, give or take.

"Many Americans don't want to go into debt," Knight says. "And don't want their sons and daughters taking on considerable debt."

It's why enrollment at community colleges is traditionally counter-cyclical -- it goes up during a recession, as older, out-of-work adults seek specific skills to help them gain employment.

"For last year, we were up 10 percent state-wide in enrollment [for all community colleges]," says Mike Hansen with the Michigan Community College Association. "And we're up almost 50 percent in the last 10 years."

And yet, for LCC and others, there is an anomaly in the numbers this time around: The average age of a student at their schools has dropped.

"Which means there are considerably more 18-year-olds are attending the nation's community colleges, and Lansing Community College, as well," Knight says.

Those students, in other words, are opting for community college as their first choice because it's simply cheaper, perhaps closer to home, and (some say) offers an increasingly competitive education.

Bridgette Haubenstricker, in her first year at LCC, is an example of exactly that. She was admitted to Michigan State University, but decided to save money for now, then transfer to MSU two years later.

"All the credits from LCC to transfer over to Michigan State, and that's been my dream college ever since I was a little girl," Bridgette says.

And now, there's even talk of allowing some community college programs to provide four-year baccalaureate degrees. A bill to do just that has passed the state House and will be taken up by the Senate next year.

"If all these people are going back to get skills, get new degrees, we're eventually going to raise the educational attainment level of our population," Hansen says.

It all points to a very fast evolution of community colleges from the stigma they carried just years ago.

"Our students transfer to the finest universities across the nation in large numbers each year," Knight says.

And with the student-body population here and at community colleges across the state getting younger and younger, there's no sign that even the end of the recession can stop the growth. is happy to provide a forum for commenting and discussion. Please respect and abide by the house rules:

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